Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering my soldier-father and Elizabeth Taylor

WHEN I HEARD the news on Wednesday of Elizabeth Taylor’s death, I didn’t think of the Hollywood star or the two-time Oscar winner, the stunning beauty with the violet eyes or the woman who married eight times, or even the starlet who struggled with addiction and was a crusader in the fight against AIDS.

Rather, I thought of my dad.

He was smitten with Liz.

He never met the Hollywood actress. But he had seen her on a United Service Organizations stage while serving during the Korean Conflict. That was enough for my Minnesota farmer turned-soldier dad to fall for her. Hard. I don’t recall him ever, in his life-time, talking about another actress. He had eyes only for Elizabeth.

His wasn’t an obsession. Nothing like that. It’s just that he seldom talked about his time on the front lines as a foot solider during the Korean War. He told us about the orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences, the sniper (he eventually killed) picking off members of his platoon, watching his buddy blown up the day before he was to return home to the States, the cold and lack of food, the digging into foxholes for protection…and then Elizabeth Taylor, dear, dear Liz.

I expect that the movie star offered a welcome and pleasant diversion for soldiers who faced death on a daily basis.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

If my dad was still alive—he died eight years ago at the age of 72—I would ask him about the woman who enamored him with her beauty when she stepped onto Korean soil to entertain the troops. I don’t know details about her USO appearance. I wish I had cared enough to ask him.

I tried to find more information online, but Taylor’s USO tours don’t exactly pop up all over the Internet. She once received the USO Woman of the Year Award and won a USO Merit Award. Otherwise I didn’t find much out there.

And that is dismaying to me. Her time entertaining our servicemen, soldiers like my dad, seems as notable as her roles in Cleopatra or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

For me, Elizabeth Taylor will always be more than just another actress. She will be a reminder of my father, of the young Minnesota soldier who was struck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart 47 years later. It is his memories of Liz that define her to me, not her beauty, not her accolades, not her anything except the temporary escape she gave my soldier-father nearly 60 years ago from the battlefields of Korea, from the horrors of war.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling